THE GREEK MASTER
Ms. M. CHRISTINA SUSAN MA., M.PHIL., PGDCA
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
N. M. S. SERMATHAI VASAN COLLEGE FOR WOMEN
2. HIS AGE AND WORKS
427 BC-348 BC
Most celebrated disciple of Socrates.
Athenian art and literature – weak [wane]
Place taken by philosophy and oratory
Chief priests –
- Parmenides, Empedocles, Socrates – philosophers
- Gorgias, Antiphon and Lysias – orators
National character/ standard of social & public life –decline
Philosophers- discuss- great variety of matters – of concern to the citizen
and state, applying the test of reason to each.
Socrates- dispassionate quest for truth – challenged – value of literature to
society, its nature and functions.
Previous age- creative activity
4th century BC – age of critical inquiry and analysis.
3. Plato – not a professed critic of literature.
Chief interest- philosophical investigation – Dialogues
Question answer form.
Number of interlocutors- chief – Socrates
Socrates profound truths- form the philosophical system
Aim: to commend his masters teaching to the learned
men of all ages.
Philosophical Discussions/ Dialogues
4. HIS VIEW OF ART
Painting, sculpture, etc. –art
Literature is an Art.
Theory of Ideas: [Republic]
Ideas- ultimate reality
Things –conceived as ideas – before they take practical shape as things.
Eg: tree – a concrete embodiment of its image in idea.
Idea – original ; thing – copy
Copy – once removed from reality
So Art – merely copies a copy : it is twice removed from reality.
things themselves-imperfect copy of the ideas from which they spring.
Their reproduction in art – more imperfect.
Take men away from reality rather than towards it.
Plato judged all Human endeavour based on two things:
- art neither mould character.
- nor promote well-being of the state.
Art’s incapacity to get to the root of things, being concerned with only a
semblance of them twice removed from reality.
5. HIS ATTACK ON POETRY
The Emotional Appeal of Poetry
Its Non- Moral Character
The poet writes because he is ‘inspired’.
The Muse suddenly fills him and makes him sing.
Can such a sudden outpouring of the
soul be a reliable substitute for
truths based on reason?
The poets utterances contain a profound truth- but this appears only
when they have been subjected to the test of reason.
By themselves – not safe guides.
So Poetry cannot take the place of philosophy.
Poetry cannot be relied upon to make the individual a better citizen and
the state a better organization.
No poets in the ideal Commonwealth, unless they happened to be those who
composed ‘hymns to the gods and panegyrics on famous men.’
6. The Emotional Appeal of Poetry
Poetry - Product of inspiration –affects the emotion rather than reason-
heart rather than the intellect.
Picture of Life- overpower the emotions – hold reason prisoner.
Emotions – impulses of the moment – like poetic inspiration.
Emotions cannot be safe guides as reason.
Emotion-considers everything coolly before allowing itself to any
Example: tragic poetry –weeping and wailing-to move the hearts of the
Republic: “ If we let our own sense of pity grow strong by feeding upon
the griefs of others it is not easy to restrain in the case of our own
Poetry “fed and watered the passions instead of drying them up, and
let them rule instead of ruling them as they ought to be ruled, with a
view to the happiness and virtue of mankind”
7. Its Non- Moral Character
Indicts poetry for its lack of concern with morality.
Treatment of life- virtue and vice – alike –without regard for moral
Virtue –grief –literature- Plato- pain –epics of Homer, the narrative verse
of Hesiod, the odes of Pindar, tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and
Portraits of gods and heroes –equally objectionable.
Gods- unjust/ revengeful/guilty of other vices
Heroes- under the sway of uncontrollable passion of all kinds –
pride, anger, grief, etc..
Such literature corrupted both the citizen and the state.
“They give us to understand that many evil livers are happy and many righteous
men unhappy; and that wrong-doing, if it be undetected, is profitable, while
honest dealing is beneficial to one’s neighbour, but damaging to one’s self”
- Republic [Plato’s Condemnation]
8. The Function of Poetry
Mere pleasure cannot be its object. [although it pleases].
Art cannot be conceived as divorced from morals.
Suggests –The Test of Poetry: What contribution it makes to the
knowledge of virtue?
Mould character- promote the interests of the state.
Pleasure, even of the highest kind, ranks low in Plato’s scale of
A poet is a good artist only in so far as he is a good teacher.
Poetic Truth must be the highest truth-ideal forms of justice,
goodness, beauty, and the like.
“We must look for artists who are able out of the goodness of their own natures
to trace the nature of beauty and perfection, that so our young men, like
persons who live in a healthy place, may be perpetually influenced for good.”
9. HIS COMMENTS ON DRAMA
Dramatic writing – branch of poetry
Drama – as much removed from reality, product of inspiration, emotional
appeal, unconcerned with morality- as those of poetry.
Its Appeal to Baser Instincts
Effects of Impersonation
Tragic and Comic Pleasure
Its Appeal to Baser Instincts
Drama- meant to be staged.
Approval/disapproval- depends on heterogeneous multitude
In order to please – dramatist often introduces what they like
- quarrels, lamentations – tragedy
- imitation of thunder, cries of beasts – comedy
Arouses baser instincts- [normal life-feel ashamed]
Leads to bad taste and laxity in discipline
Plato censored such plays
10. Effects of Impersonation
Drama reacts unfavourably on the actors themselves
Constantly impersonating evil characters like cowards, knaves, and
criminals- let these evil qualities enter into their own nature –
detriment their natural self.
Acting is not a healthy exercise.
Represses individuality and leads to enfeeblement of character.
Plato admits – where the characters impersonated represent the cream
of humanity- men of courage, wisdom, or virtue.
By force of habit – the same qualities are stimulated in him.
Those tragedies therefore that represent the best and noblest in life
are of positive benefit to the community and deserve to be
11. Tragic and Comic Pleasure
The pleasure aroused by tragedy and comedy
What is it in a painful scene that causes pleasure?
Human nature- mixture of heterogeneous feelings- anger, envy, fear,
grief, etc.- which are painful by themselves –affords pleasure ehen
indulged in excess.
Comedy – [Plato knew only the satirical kind] –the pleasure takes the
form of laughter at what we see on the stage.
- a coward behaving as a brave man
- a fool as a wise man
-a cheat as an honest man etc.
The source of laughter- incongruity between what he is and what he
pretends to be.
Such pleasure- malicious.
Plato hits upon a profound truth: no character can be comic unless he
is lovable. But Plato warns against too frequent indulgence in
laughter- affects seriousness of conduct required to do great deeds.
12. HIS OBSERVATION ON STYLE
Plato lived in an age of oratory – lays down a few principles of good
speech- apply equally to good writing. [Phaedrus]
1. Thorough knowledge of the subject one is to speak on.
2. impress the hearers.
-Natural Gift – Knowledge of its rules- constant practice in the work.
3. his thoughts upon his subject must follow each other in a natural
He can communicate himself best to his hearers.
Hearers: - men like himself
- with their own whims and prejudices
- likes and dislikes
- ideas and attitudes
4. have a knowledge of human psychology to get into the hearer’s heart
13. THE VALUE OF HIS CRITICISM
Plato - A discerning critic of poetry and drama.
Thorough insight into nature, function and method.
Truth as the test of poetic greatness – awareness of the difference between
the truths of poetry and the truth of life.
Disapproval od the non-moral character of the poetic art – implied the
difference between the function of poetry and the function of philosophy.
- philosophy – instruction
Attack on the emotional appeal of poetry – indirectly discerned the poetic
method –to persuade by pleasing, to make one feel rather than think.
His observations on the sources of tragic and comic pleasure
Thoughtful analysis of the essentials of spoken and written speech.
He hits poetry and drama the hardest
- score of lack of moral teaching
-indulgence in unrestrained emotion, or melodramatic or farcical
14. He was the first to see that all art is imitation or mimesis, imitating the
objects of life or Nature.
That there are two kinds of art :
Fine Arts- literature, painting, sculpture and music – indulged in
for mere pleasure.
Useful Arts – medicine, agriculture, cookery – cooperate with
We owe the division of poetry:
the purely mimetic/ imitative [drama – life is imitated in action
mixed kind – epic- the poet partly indulges in lyrical fights and
partly introduces action and speech.
Epic superior to drama. – a verdict upheld by later generations.
Principles of art/ style:
Well thought out matter
A knowledge of its technique
Constant practice in it
Unity of design/ the interweaving of the parts into an inseparable
To interpret poetry aright it is necessary to have a knowledge of poetry as
a whole and of the principles of its composition.
- ‘Ion’ by Plato